Five minutes with Charlie Warwick
As the EMEA head of futures practice at Kantar, Charlie Warwick has experience designing strategic approaches to help clients shape innovation. She discusses brands and purpose, sharing insights on how to predict future business trends
What is the best way to build future-proofed brands?
We see organisations as standing on a critical tripod you need to get right, to be successful as a brand. Consumer-centred experiences represent one of the tripod’s legs, but the brands of the future are about relationships as well. That means taking your relationship with consumers beyond transactional, into something that feels more meaningful and potentially lifelong.
The third leg of that tripod is equally important and is connected to algorithms. It means getting the digital infrastructure and the algorithmic rules right and up to speed, to underpin both of those experiences and relationships that you’re trying to build on the consumer-facing side of your brand. Without that algorithmic underpinning, you’re going to be dying in the near future.
Where do you see AI and branding in future years?
A clever deployment of AI technology I’ve seen in recent times is the Hive Mind technology. It gathers data from thousands of respondents and shapes that data into plausible predictions for the future. Drawing inspiration from that approach, brands might be able to shape identities that really, truly fit mass consensus.
There is also a big threat connected to AI and branding, or at least it seems like one. The major tech companies are breaking up into various and different consumer packages, which sometimes removes the visibility of brands entirely. As a marketing manager or brand manager, you have to become adept at marketing through algorithm, which is a difficult new idea. Algorithms learn by previous historical sales, or by looking at performance and rating; they don’t have basic human emotions you can appeal to as a brand.
How can you best anticipate future trends? What are the key aspects to consider?
Take an outside-in view on current events. Imagine an egg on a hypothetical frying pan; the outer circle represents the macro, high-level, long-run forces of change that seem to be quite distant from us. Things like demographic change, technological advancement, economic progress or regulatory shifts. But those are the things that shape and dictate the way our lives are lived, in any given market, brand or business. Taking the outside-in view first is useful to understand what forces are at play and which ones could influence future trends.
We also take a longer view of time, because that allows us to evaluate events that happened in the past and how trends have been building up over time, to spot deeper habits of change. This approach gives us the confidence to face whatever change is to come.
The last thing is creating connections. We try to take disparate or seemingly distinct trends from the social, technological or political spheres, and we start to combine them to tell stories about change. And that’s where you get a picture full of human richness, one describing what the future might look like.
Where do you see brand purpose in five years? Any trends you can see for the near future?
There are some really drastic moves being made today that will shape the business landscape in five years. They’re often about making decisions that impact profit negatively in the short term, but have a longer term view associated. One example would be Patagonia, a world-leading brand in terms of sustainable actions.
Patagonia has a bestselling piece of clothing called Power Vest, something sold to corporate accounts. It’s a huge revenue stream for Patagonia, but the company has refused to sell corporate account power vests to any business that is not a certified B Corporation. It is cutting out immediate revenue from all of those buyers, and potentially a lot of brand visibility as well, in favour of making a statement about what it means to be a B Corporation. And that is just one example of what’s happening today. Brand purpose is increasingly about making those drastic actions that reveal a longer term view, at the expense of the shorter term.